Rubber Sword.

"Humour is a rubber sword - it allows you to make a point without drawing blood," - Mary Hirsch.


There was no response to the statement that rang out across the gentle afternoon breeze. Nearly the whole of the SGC was gathered on the mountain and yet Sam had never heard such resounding silence.

Not that she was surprised. Major Thompson was prowling around the makeshift arena like a caged tiger, eyes scanning the audience, awaiting an answer to his challenge. He was a powerfully built man; one of the strongest assigned to the base and undisputed "King of the Mountain" for the past four years running.

Interest in the annual tournament had been waning - the competition had become that one-sided. No one wanted to go up against the burly Marine. He had proven his strength three years ago by defeating Teal'c. Two years ago, he had proven his dexterity and athleticism by sending both Sam and Feretti to the infirmary, where they had remained bed-ridden for a week. But it was last year everyone was still reeling from. Last year, they had convinced Colonel O'Neill to enter the competition, certain the special ops-trained officer could defeat the cocky Marine. And Jack had really tried. Sam still shuddered at the memories of that fight. She had never seen anything like it. Not a single move had been taught in any academy ring she had ever seen, both men fighting like street-wise alley cats. She had never seen any fight quite so dirty or ruthless in her life. And the Marine had won. He'd actually won!

Admittedly, the Colonel had still been recovering from a bout of tropical influenza that had struck him down after SG-1 had travelled into the South American jungles to investigate rumours of a possible crystal skull discovery but that didn't matter to the Colonel. A year later, he was still smarting at the defeat. He had determined a rematch would happen this year and the entire base had been looking forward to it. Then the fall-out over the Aschen situation turned into a political quagmire and events had been taken out of his control. As soon as it became clear that General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill would be spending most of the month in Washington accounting for the actions of SG-1 to the Pentagon, interest in the fight had waned. Short of pride and bruised egos, no one wanted to risk either their health or their money going up against Thompson.

Then, in an attempt to generate interest, some jackass had suggested to the base's temporary commander, General Gage, that this year's tournament be something slightly different.

Gage hadn't been too fond of the idea of annual fighting tournaments when he had first heard of it and had dismissed the event out of hand. He was more interested in the status of the civilian personnel employed at the Mountain. It seemed their temporary commander didn't much like civilians, and he really hated scientists. Sam and the doctors, he barely tolerated. They at least had the good taste to be military, but on more than one occasion, both she and Janet had found Daniel steaming in the corridors after his latest confrontation with the General. And every time he left a meeting with Gage, base personnel fought to stay out of the reach of both men for the rest of the day.

Quite by accident, the archaeologist had become the unofficial champion of the beleaguered scientists and the running battles between the pair were becoming the stuff out of which legends were made. There was one thing Gage hated more than a civilian scientist and that was a civilian scientist who refused to be intimidated by military rank. Sam was starting to worry Daniel might get himself fired before Hammond could return and salvage the situation.

It was into this volatile situation that the nameless pseudo-intellectual had suggested to Gage the annual tournament could continue this year under a different theme. If Gage was worried about the ability of the civilians to pull their weight, why not make it compulsory for them to enter the competition? Until now, the competition had been military only. Civilians weren't exempt from entering but it had been assumed they wouldn't. Only Teal'c had become involved and most of the base considered him "foreign military." He was a warrior like them, after all. He just hadn't been trained by any military on Earth.

Much to the horror of the civilians, Gage had considered it an excellent method of testing whether the taxpayers money that gave these civilians basic training was being well spent. He had agreed.

Asshole, Sam thought, then immediately felt a pang of guilt at being so judgmental towards a superior officer. Even if it was inside the privacy of her own mind. In a moment though, the guilt passed. General or not, the man really was an asshole. Just wait until I get my hands on that Einstein that suggested this, she thought to herself grimly. She glanced sideways at the look on her teammate's face. On second thoughts, maybe she'd just stand back and let Daniel do the work. If his current expression was anything to go by, whoever was responsible for this debacle would do well never to let the archaeologist find out his identity. She had only seen this look on Daniel's face once before. Four years ago, when he had impulsively destroyed the Goa'uld larva on Chulak, thoughts of Sha're and Skaara's fates gleaming in his eyes as they died on the ground in front of him.

That had been the first time she had ever caught a glimpse of a dark and ruthless streak to her normally gentle friend's multi-faceted personality. It was side most didn't know existed and which she had only ever seen during times of extreme duress.

It was visible again now and suddenly Sam was frightened. She was frightened that Daniel was so angry with the unfairness of this year's competition, that he'd choose to represent the scientists himself, rather than let anyone else suffer, and be crippled by Thompson's predatory fighting style.

Initially, they hadn't considered it a problem; this year had seen the arrival of a newly recruited scientist to the base by the name of Dr. Jason Laird. He was a civilian cosmologist - at 6'4" tall, with shoulders like a battering ram and muscles as hard as steel, he was built like a mountain. Not only was he from a family that enjoyed playing in the annual Highland Games, who were considered some of the toughest caber-tossers in Scotland, but he was a pretty mean boxer as well. Unfortunately, he had returned from this year's Games with over-strained pectoral muscles and had been banned from participating in the tournament. With him out of the match, the civilians didn't stand a chance. The next report passed across Pentagon desks would probably be a demand for civilian presence on off-world missions to cease for the foreseeable future.

Daniel had growled - actually growled - that Kinsey and the NID couldn't have planned this better if they'd actively tried.

Sam wished she could step forward herself. In fact, she had tried. Janet had tried. Even solid, reliable Dr. Warner had offered in a moment of indignant protest at the decision. But all three were military and therefore didn't count as scientists for the purpose of this tournament. The civilians were on their own.

"No!" Daniel abruptly stepped forward and Sam was startled out of her reverie. The archaeologist reacted a moment too late as his favourite research assistant slipped into the ring, a determined look on his normally shy features. Sam winced and grabbed Daniel's arm.

"Let go!" he growled, struggling. "Nyan, what are you doing?!"

The alien archaeologist shot Daniel a brave smile and grimly turned to face the Marine. Nyan had little love for military. Any military. He had too many bad memories of the behaviour of his native military-controlled government and the reasons he had been forced to request asylum on Earth. If he could help his adoptive peers and friends now, he was determined to pull his weight and pitch in. For that he would have their admiration but the outcome was hopelessly predictable.

Sure enough, within a minute of the fight starting, it ended with a bone-crushing impact as Nyan crashed through the makeshift arena fences, landing almost at Daniel's feet.

The archaeologist rushed forward and knelt down beside his friend, inspecting him closely. "Nyan?" he said softly.

The alien's eyelids fluttered and he groaned feebly as the medics hurried over. Janet gently shoved Daniel aside and crouched down. "Okay, Nyan. Just lie still, it's going to be okay," she soothed, quickly and professionally checking him over for signs of immediate trauma. "Okay, no broken bones, no internal haemorrhaging. We can move him," she nodded to her team and they quickly shifted him to the gurney and carried him away. Daniel grabbed Janet's arm and the doctor paused. "He'll be okay, Daniel," she reassured him. "We'll keep him in the infirmary in case of concussion and take a closer look at him to be safe, but the worst he's likely to have are bruises and strained muscles."

Daniel's intense blue eyes pierced her for several moments, so she stared firmly back. She couldn't be certain until she had done a proper check in the infirmary but her instincts told her Nyan's injuries weren't serious, just extremely painful. A moment later, apparently reassured by her refusal to back down, Daniel nodded and reluctantly released her arm.

"Doctor Fraiser, I do not believe it is wise for this battle to continue according to these rules," Teal'c sounded firm.

Janet nodded grimly. "I agree, Teal'c." She knew why the Jaffa had spoken up then. She was the CMO, she could call these proceedings to a halt and Teal'c knew she had that power. Her medical training agreed wholeheartedly. This was turning barbaric, she objected strenuously to what General Gage had allowed and she would be making an official protest about it. But in the murky world of politics, it would not result in a victory for the SGC.

Daniel was getting that grim look, he knew the consequences as well. Janet held back a sigh - sometimes the man was too intuitive for his own good. He glared at her. "You'll be telling the Pentagon that General Gage is right" he said flatly.

"Daniel..." the doctor began.

"That scientists have no business going off-world..."

Sam took his arm. "Daniel, that's not..."

"Yes, Sam! It is! There won't be civilians working here at all if Gage gets his way!"

"Daniel Jackson, would you rather your colleagues suffer unnecessary injury before General Gage confirms the decision we know he has already made?" Teal'c interrupted calmly.

Daniel glared at Teal'c. Sometimes he really hated the Jaffa's sense of timing. Teal'c was always right at the most annoying times.

The archaeologist wilted. "No," he confessed quietly, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

"Last call people! Anyone left who thinks they have what it takes to join me in the ring?!" Thompson was patrolling the arena, looking triumphant at the lack of response.

"It's a shame Dr. Laird can't fight," Sam sighed. "All we need is one scientist who can kick ass to fix this mess."

Daniel gave her a sharp look. "One? I thought it was supposed to be a team effort?"

"No, we enter as a team, but only one scientist needs to defeat Thompson," Janet grimaced. "They're so sure he's unbeatable," she finished bitterly.

"Just one?" Daniel's tone was taking on a note of incredulity. "Why didn't anyone tell me this before?!"

The three stared at him. "What difference does it make?" Sam asked, mystified.

"God, now I know why Jack keeps complaining about memos!"

"Daniel, wha--" Sam began but Daniel was already moving off.

"Oh God!" she and Janet groaned at the same time. The archaeologist was walking down to the ring.

General Gage was rising. "Major, I think..." he trailed off as Daniel climbed through the rope fencing into the ring.

"Dr. Jackson?" Gage asked dryly.

"Daniel Jackson, I do not think this decision is prudent," Teal'c had jogged down to the arena after him, flanked by a very worried looking Sam and Janet.

"I'll be fine, Teal'c," Daniel said curtly. He wasn't happy to be in this position, he wasn't happy with the events that had led to this decision. God help him, but it was a part of his life he had thought forever buried, and now he was putting it on display for the entire base to scrutinise. Oh no, he wasn't happy at all. Yet, if it stopped this insanity, prevented more personnel ending up in the infirmary and restored order to the base, it would be worth the small personal sacrifice he was being asked to make.

He glanced over at Thompson who was grinning at the prospect of confronting the Mountain's most famous pacifist, then turned back to the three. Quickly taking off his glasses, he handed them to a horrified Sam. "Look after them," he said shortly.

"Daniel, you're already at a disadvantage, don't blind yourself as well," Sam hissed urgently.

Daniel gave her a short glare and turned and walked into the centre of the arena. He may have been shortsighted but his glasses weren't that strong. He might not catch fine detail or be able to make out facial expressions and the edges of his vision might blur easily but he wasn't blind.

"Oh God," he heard Sam moan fervently behind him. "The Colonel is going to kill me!"

"Me too," Janet sighed.

"Me also," Teal'c almost sounded morose.

Daniel tuned them out. It had been a while, he needed to focus. He swallowed and faced Thompson. Better to get this over with as soon as possible. God help me. Why am I getting involved in this?

Then Thompson attacked and he didn't have time to be nervous anymore.

"Dammitdammitdammit," Sam was muttering as Daniel walked out to face Thompson who was grinning easily. Unlike previous years, which had just been good old-fashioned rough-and-tumble, anything-goes-as-long-as-it's-unarmed combat, this time, as long as it was in the arena, it could be used. Apparently, making use of the surroundings made it a more realistic exercise. In reality, it meant that a civilian scientist with basic combat training was screwed.

And here was Daniel, walking into the lion's den. Shit, I should have stopped him. If he survives this, I'm going to kill him. Oh God, he's not even going into a basic combat stance... Sam's thoughts trailed off as Daniel spread his feet, and stood with his fists close to his body. At least his body looked loose and relaxed. Maybe he knew enough not to tense up around the blow after all.

"What?" Janet whispered, not taking her eyes off the arena.

"What?" she whispered back. She couldn't look away either.

"You winced."

"Oh. Just thinking of old stories. You know, Daniel, the lion's den, Androcles in Aesop's fables..."

"We better start praying Thompson gets a thorn in his foot then," Janet said glumly. She wasn't exactly good with old stories but she did remember Sam reading Aesop's Fables to Cassie after Cassie had first arrived on Earth. Something about a Greek slave showing kindness to an injured lion and the lion returning the favour later on in the gladiatorial arena. She didn't really remember. Stories like that weren't really her thing. Now she found herself wishing she had paid more attention to Sam's stories instead of being surprised her friend knew them in the first place. Not that it would have helped Daniel, but his Biblical namesake had survived. Hadn't he?

Out of the corner of her eye, there was a movement as someone else joined their group but her thoughts froze when Thompson suddenly attacked. Beside her, Sam stopped breathing. There had been no warning. The Major's moves were fast; he had crossed the intervening space unbelievably quickly, striking for Daniel's face.

And hitting only air.

The audience blinked as one. Daniel seemed to have disappeared before watching eyes caught up to the swift movements, discovering the archaeologist rolling backwards through the dirt, his evasive dodge ending in a crouch, resting on one knee, the other ready to shift his weight as needed, his hands poised.

Too close, an inner voice muttered quietly in Daniel's head.

Shut up, he growled back, diving under the next blow, escaping the startled Major again. This time Daniel shot back to his feet, behind the Major and spun quickly into a loose, defensive stance. He saw the punch, dropped back on his right leg and his arms swung up. The Major flinched in surprise as not only did his punch connect with a carefully placed arm block, but there was also a sharp stabbing pain in the side of his neck.

Once again, Daniel was untouched and out of reach.

The Major didn't attack immediately, circling like a boxer. The archaeologist obviously had some moves, maybe a bit of martial arts training. He didn't know what he had just been hit with, he didn't recognise it, but he knew it was some kind of Zen thing... what did they call it in the films? Oh, yeah. A kata of some kind. Whatever. Daniel wasn't the only person on base who had studied martial arts and Thompson had beaten black belts on several occasions so he wasn't that worried. Obviously, he needed to stay alert for tricks from now on but the archaeologist hated violence. How good a warrior could a pacifist be?

He feinted with a punch, tossing in a kick at Daniel's lower ribs. The world shifted upside-down sickeningly and instead of his kick connecting, he found himself flat on his back, his shins and backside burning with sudden pain.

What the fuck?! Swiftly he rolled back to his feet. Sensing a presence behind him, he lashed out with his fists, and was satisfied to hear a grunt as his blows connected at last. Quickly he rounded on Daniel for the kill. But the archaeologist was gone again.

Jeez, he's fast for a geek! The Major backed off, circling again, eyes narrowed and glaring at Daniel. Despite the solid contact he had made a moment ago, he really couldn't tell where he had hit the archaeologist. No sign of bruising or blood, no wheezing, no hint of pain in the eyes... wait a minute, isn't he supposed to be blind without those fucking glasses?!

He moved in swiftly, feinting a punch. Daniel spun backwards, blocking. The Major dropped low, and saw the archaeologist's foot already moving. Damn, Daniel had anticipated well. But he had anticipated a lower body attack, and that hadn't been Thompson's intention. Far from it. Grabbing a handful of dirt, he took the kick, rolling with the move and, grunting with effort, somehow managed to block a surprisingly aggressive volley of kicks that followed him across the arena. Barely able to breathe from the final kick that landed squarely against his ribs, he retained enough presence of mind to toss the dirt in the archaeologist's face and follow through with a punch. Daniel stumbled back, choking, as much dust landing in his mouth as in his eyes.

Thompson took a deep breath to steady himself. Damn, he was going to have some hellish bruises tomorrow but right now, the archaeologist was definitely blind. Not giving up his advantage, he thrust away his pain and moved forwards swiftly, punching, aiming for chest and stomach.

Daniel grunted in pain and folded under the onslaught, distantly hearing two familiar female voices call out simultaneously, their voices seeming to reflect the pain he was suddenly feeling. God, he didn't know what hurt more - his eyes or his torso.

Focus. You've suffered worse and survived, that critical inner voice observed.

Like hell I have, Self-doubt snapped back. He's breaking me in half!

Well, d'uh! Stop it then!

Dear God, when had his inner voices started sounding like Jack? The pounding was continuing, it felt as though it had been for an eternity but his analytical, scientific mind speculated it was probably only a few seconds. God, it hurt.


Right. Yeah. Okay, he was blind. No need to panic, he had worked on blindness before. He'd even experimented with blindfolds. God, when had he ever been that dumb? Oh, yeah, the reasons he learned all this in the first place. Well, as stupid as it had been then, now was really the time to do something with it.


Something sharp and cold cut across his skin and through blurred, pained eyes he could see the telltale sheen of a combat knife. A knife?! Does he not know the meaning of the word 'non-lethal'?!


He grabbed for the foot but suddenly he was flying through the air.

Oh God, this is gonna-- Ignoring his inner pessimist, his body was taking over. Twisting in response, bracing for impact. He crashed to Earth but absorbed most of the shock as he forced momentum to continue and came up on his knees, body pressed against the fence. The fence where Nyan had fallen through. Wow, he could feel the broken wood sticking into his back. Somehow that hurt more than the...

Wood? Rope? Could I...? He could still barely see, but he was able to tell the Major was advancing on him, knife first. Never would he live down the decision he had just made, but it was a plan, and a good one.

The SGC watched in stunned silence as the battered archaeologist spun, grabbed the broken fence and tugged the slim wooden post free. Coming with it was the rope and the matching stick at the other end, and suddenly, the SGC's most vocal pacifist was casually entering a combat stance, his impromptu weapon held confidently in his hand.

"Oh he's not..." Sam muttered in disbelief.

"Oh he is..." Janet whispered breathlessly in equal shock.

Sure enough, the Major swung in, then jerked swiftly back as searing pain soared through his arm. Daniel remained out of reach, wielding his weapon defensively. To those who didn't know the difference, it seemed as though he had created an impromptu nunchaku. To those who knew better, he was wielding the closest thing to a manrikigusari he could come up with on such short notice. The ease with which he handled his makeshift rope-and-spike weapon was silent testimony to the watchers that he knew how to use the real thing.

Wary but seasoned, the Marine began to circle and feint, looking for an opening. Daniel remained on the defensive, but alert. His eyes were streaming from the dust and narrowed in intense concentration. He had the appearance of a man who had been dragged across the desert by a mastedge but there was no sign of pain or fatigue in his movements, no sign of weakness in his eyesight, despite the lack of glasses and the teary vision.

"How the hell is he doing that?!" Sam hissed. She received no answer, not even Teal'c had one to offer.

Wood flared out from the end of the rope and, learning fast, the Major dodged, closing in dangerously. Before he could connect, the rope was tangling around his knife. A moment later, it was jerked from his grasp and flying across the arena, landing outside the fencing and out of reach of either combatant. The Major barely had time to register his shock or the jarring sensation of Daniel hitting him again. Ignoring the pain, he gritted his teeth and surged forward, grappling before Daniel could bring his wooden weapon to bear again. Daniel grunted and lost balance slightly. He regained it swiftly but it was enough for the Major to gain the upper hand. For a moment he struggled helplessly against the stronger man's grip and then gasped at a sharp, cold pain that stabbed into his chest. For a moment, he thought the Marine had pulled another knife before his tired brain registered the truth. It was his breast pocket and his pens were making their presence felt amongst the stress of the sudden wrestling match that had developed.

He almost went limp in shock as a new plan struck him. A plan that might actually allow him to win. God, I could actually win?!

Sensing some of the fight leaving his opponent, Thompson shifted his grip and his muscles heaved. Once more, Daniel found himself flying through the air, but this time he was prepared for it.

It was time to end this.

Sam and Janet's eyes widened in horror as Daniel was thrown for the second time. Even Teal'c took a step forward in distress. But this time, the archaeologist landed rolling, coming up into a stance similar to his first roll right at the start of the fight. Something silver flashed in his hands, then in the air and suddenly the advancing Major wobbled. His eyes widened and without warning, he crumpled to the ground with a gasp. He groaned and floundered for a moment but didn't rise. Daniel bounced to his feet and bolted over to him, sinking down beside the grounded Marine and pressed a hand against his opponent's stomach.

The audience stared in stunned silence. The fight had ended so abruptly they weren't sure what had happened, what they had missed. All they knew was that Daniel was kneeling over a Marine that wasn't getting back to his feet.

General Gage rose to his feet, clearly shocked but it was Janet who reached the arena first, scrambling through the broken fence to reach the pair.

"I can't feel my legs!" the Marine gurgled.

"It's alright," Daniel reassured him. "You're just numb, it's like pins and needles."

"You stabbed me?!" Thompson was staring at the dishevelled archaeologist in shock as Janet frantically tugged away the shirt, looking for a wound. A silver pen tumbled to the ground, ignored by her and Daniel grabbed it immediately.

"No puncture wounds," she sounded puzzled. "You haven't been stabbed, Major."

"I wasn't the one carrying the knife," Daniel sounded accusatory.

"No rules," the Marine mumbled, then yelped in shocked pain as sensation began returning to his limbs. "What the hell did you do, Jackson?!" he yelled.

"I'd like to know the answer to that myself," Jack's voice was dry. Daniel jumped to his feet in response and found Sam and Teal'c there, offering silent support with their physical presence alone. The Colonel was standing behind them, in dress uniform. He must have arrived some time during the fight, Daniel realised in horror.

Carefully, Janet rose, helping the Major up as Sam quietly handed Daniel back his glasses. With a tired smile, he quickly put them on, avoiding Jack's stare by watching the Marine begin to rise shakily then sink back down, his knees giving way again.

Slowly, the archaeologist lifted his eyes to meet Jack's. "The body has pressure points. It's well known in Asian cultures. I hit him in one."

Jack stared at him. "You were on the other side of the ring!"

Daniel held up his pen silently. There was a peculiar expression on his face and he was oddly silent.

The Colonel stared, dumbfounded at the implication. "You felled one of the SGC's best warriors with a pen?!" he demanded incredulously.

The archaeologist made a strangled sound deep in his throat and looked at his feet. "I read the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton a couple of days ago," he managed weakly.

Jack's expression turned impatient. "Who?"

"Nineteenth Century novelist, Colonel," Janet said, without thinking. "Famous for the quote 'The pen is mightier than the sword,'" she spotted the look on Jack's face and decided to stay out of this one.

Jack glanced at the trembling Marine then looked back at the now blushing archaeologist. He didn't seem able to speak for the moment, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said after a moment. "What technique did you utilise to force your opponent to collapse without harming him?"

Daniel shifted uncomfortably and looked down sheepishly.

"It was like fighting a fucking ninja. All those damn moves," the Marine at their feet muttered.

"Um. Yeah. Sort of," Daniel mumbled in confession.

They all stared at him.

"Uh... Daniel," Jack said slowly. "What technique did you use?"

Daniel's face flamed. "I... ah... well... ninjutsu?"

"The ninja art?!"

"Um. Yeah."

"You're a ninja?!"

"No! It was a stupid bet in university! Stephen and I were studying the accuracy of Sun Tzu's "Art of War" translations and I said he couldn't prove whether Sun Tzu was really responsible for the origin of the ninja. So he pointed out that evidence for their origin was so poor, anything he did discover would be as irrefutable as unacceptable. So we decided to see if he was right, and then discovered the only way to really get to the bottom of this was to interview ninjutsu practitioners. Except they didn't want to say anything to "outsiders", which meant we had to join a dojo. So he bet me that we couldn't survive the training long enough to gather the information we were looking for and... oh." He trailed off at the expression on his friends' faces. Sometimes it was wiser not to tell the truth.

"You became a ninja because of a bet?!"

"I'm not a ninja!"

"A geek bet?!"


"And that's how you knew how to fashion nunchakus out of broken fencing?!"


"Whatever. And it's also how you were able to fight blind?"


"And drop a Marine with a pen?"

"Well... "

"From 4 metres away?!"


"And you're telling me you're not a ninja?!"

The archaeologist opened his mouth, then shut it again and stared at them all helplessly.

The silence was suddenly broken by a groan at their feet, as the Marine tested his aching body again. He looked up, expression horrified. "Are you telling me I was defeated by a blind, pen-toting pacifist who became a ninja for the sake of science?!" he demanded.

The mortified expression on Daniel's face needed no clarification but an odd unfathomable emotion appeared in the Colonel's eyes as he contemplated both his friend and adversary. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Defeated by Ninjiana Jackson, Raider of the Lost Art. How does it feel?"

"Kill me," the Marine whispered fervently, face flaming with humiliation.

"Me first," the archaeologist's blush rivalled the Marine's.

The Colonel eyed the pair of them. Daniel had robbed him of his chance for revenge, but for once he couldn't fault the outcome. It gave him enough material on both men to make their lives hell for a lifetime. His eyebrows rose suddenly. Woah, don't ninjas believe in reincarnation? Make that several lifetimes then. Oh, yeah, life was good. He watched his friend wilt in response to the sly expression he knew was plastered all over his face.

For some of us, anyway, he amended silently, and grinned.